Joint Plan Commission and Economic Development Committee Study Session Minutes
August 17, 2016
|Michael Forbes||Gregory Volk|
|Jon Gill||Steve Kozel|
|Jason Williams||Bob Birlson|
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE:
|Nick Georgiou||Mark Barenie|
|William Keith||Kelly Stoming|
|Gina Fezler||Beth Hernandez, Clerk-Treasurer|
|Richard Setlak||Stephen Kil, Town Manager|
|John DeYoung||David Austgen, Town Attorney|
CALL TO ORDER:
Mr. Forbes called the August 17, 2016 Joint Plan Commission and Economic Development Committee study session to order at 6:01 p.m.
(The Pledge of Allegiance was said.)
Clerk-Treasurer, Beth Hernandez took roll call with the following Plan Commission members present: Michael Forbes, Greg Volk, Jason Williams, Bob Birlson, Steve Kozel, John Kennedy, and Jon Gill. The following EDC members were present: Nick Georgiou, Bill Keith, Gina Fezler, Kelly Stoming, Richard Setlak, and John DeYoung. EDC member Mr. Mark Barenie was absent.
Mr. Forbes said that first he would like to thank the EDC members for taking time to meet with the Plan Commission tonight. There is no doubt that the Comprehensive Plan has been the topic of conversation lately. Mr. Forbes wanted to get both the Plan Commission and EDC together, so that they may clear the air. He would like them to have a straightforward discussion about what the EDC did as far as bringing together the information. He would like to possibly address the major outstanding concerns about the plan.
Mr. Forbes said that a lot of people don’t know that the EDC was responsible for the compilation of information, and the formation of the comprehensive master plan. This is typically something that would have been done by the Plan Commission, but this time around the thought was to get some fresh eyes on, and that is when the EDC came in.
Mr. Forbes asked that the EDC members talk about what their thoughts were, as far as gathering the information. Mr. Forbes asked that before they do that, everyone introduce themselves, so everyone knows who is who and where they come from.
Nick Georgiou: I am currently the President of the Economic Development Committee. I own my own business here in St. John. I am a local architect and contractor. My business is on Joliet Street.
Kelly Stoming: I work for People’s Bank. We have an office here in St. John. I am also a lifelong resident of the town.
Gina Fezler: I am part of the Economic Development Committee. I am also a resident of St. John for about ten (10) years. I work for First Financial Bank doing business lending.
Jon Gill: I am a member of the Plan Commission. I work for the Town of St. John in the Building and Planning department. I have been a resident of St. John, since 1988.
Robert Birlson: I work for a local civil engineering firm for the last 18 years. I have been doing civil work for the over 25 years-working locally, mostly municipalities. I have been a resident of St. John for the last 18 or 19 years.
Steve Kozel: I work for the Building and Planning Commission, also. I have been in town since 1978.
Mike Forbes: Both Councilman and Plan Commission member. I have been on the Plan Commission for about 20 years now. I was a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals. I have been a resident of St. John for about 23 years.
Greg Volk: I have been a resident of St. John for about 20 years. I am also a Councilman and Plan Commission member. I was a BZA member. I work for Arcelor Mittal in East Chicago.
Jason Williams: Plan Commission and BZA. I work for Pepsi-Co downtown in Finance. I live in North Point, and I have lived in town since 2013.
John Kennedy: I have been on the BZA and Plan Commission for all of five minutes. [Laughter] Thank you everyone. I have been a resident of St. John for 13 years. I work for a firm called American Structure Point. We are a civil engineering and architectural group based out of Indianapolis. We have a local office in Highland.
Bill Keith: I was born and raised in St. John, so I have been here 53 years. I bought my parent’s house, so them before me. I graduated from Indiana University, and worked for the family roofing company for 25 years. Then, I developed a solar powered attic fan that we make out of Warsaw, Indiana and we sell them all over the world. So, that keeps me busy day to day. I am a member of the EDC. I made an unsuccessful run at Town Council several years ago, but now I am on the EDC, and I have been on it for a few years.
Richard Setlak: I have been in St. John for just over eleven years. I am retired. I used to work for a major national government. I just wanted to say that. (Laughter) Anyway, I was an auditor there looking at government contracts. I have been a member of the EDC for a few years now.
John DeYoung: I am a member of the EDC. I have a retail business here in town. I have lived here since 2000, and I am glad to be a part of this group.
A. Review of Comprehensive and Thoroughfare Plan
Mr. Forbes said that we would now get started with the basics. There have been a couple public hearings on the comprehensive master plan. Mr. Forbes asked that the EDC members walk the Plan Commission through some of the steps that they went through.
Mr. Georgiou said he would give some background. When the EDC was initially formed it was more of an advisory committee of the Town, the Town Council, and the Plan Commission. It was an outshoot of conversations between himself, Mr. Forbes, Mr. Barenie, and the Chamber of Commerce about helping to promote business and development in the Town of St. John. So, when we initially formed-most of the members here were some of the original members. Although, Gina has changed.
Mr. Georgiou said they actually went through a very methodical approach to what it will take to attract business to St. John. Plus, what guidelines and plans should be in place in order for the town to orderly grow as it moves forward to what we have been told will be 40,000 people in the year 2040.
So, the very first document that the EDC was involved in was to generate the first promotional document. Mr. Georgiou held it up and said that he hopes everyone has seen it. This was to be used as a document the town could use to promote themselves for economic development and business development. The other offshoot that came off of that document was thought as “Ok, now we can tell people this is an attractive place to come to, but what is the town really looking for. What does it really need?”
Mr. Georgiou said that the next document endeavor they went on was to create the Metro Study Opportunity Analysis. This document is 92 pages long, and again Mr. Georgiou said hopefully all members have seen it. If they haven’t, Mr. Georgiou explained that this document identified: the demographics of the town, the area, what it is lacking, what it could attract as far as businesses, retail, restaurants, and even residential. This identified even residential growth in the town relative to what was initially generated off of the first document. This study became the next wealth of information that the EDC now had at their fingertips to then go forward.
Mr. Georgiou said they knew the Comprehensive Plan was developed around 11 years ago in 2005. So, the next step would obviously be to update the Comprehensive Plan. Now, the mission to think how can we attract and orderly grow development in the town, understanding what are the needs or shortfalls of trying to attract business in the town, was to now update the Comprehensive Plan and see where we have come in 12 years. Mr. Georgiou said the EDC was the basis of meeting with SCB, who did the original plan, and provided input, background, etc., on going forward to what was now generated.
Mr. Georgiou said that he was now going to let Christine (Carlyle) talk. He wanted her to explain in some detail how we didn’t just pull this out and say ok we are going to update this etc. The number one factor was town input. Mr. Georgiou re-stated that he would like her to talk about that, because they were talking ahead of time about how the response was phenomenal. There was a public hearing on the original Comprehensive Plan. There was a public hearing on the last Comprehensive Plan, and as Mr. Georgiou believes around 300 people showed up to the public hearing for this Comprehensive Plan. The feedback in particular that drove what some of the conclusions were was about 18%, where normal response is about 2%.
Ms. Christine Carlyle said our response was actually 20%. Out of the 5,300 residents in St. John, we received a little over 1,000 surveys back. That is really amazing. Mr. Keith asked Ms. Carlyle to please introduce herself, so that everyone knows who she is.
Ms. Carlyle stated that she is with Solomon-Cordwell & Buenz.. She is the Principle and Director of Planning. She worked on the 2005 Comprehensive Plan, and then recently came back to meet with the EDC.
She has been working with them on this Comprehensive Plan that we are all reviewing now. Ms. Carlyle said that their focus has really been to understand what has changed in the community, and where we want to go. She reminded the members that in many ways (regarding) the Comprehensive Plan from 2005, we actually filled out what the original plans were to improve the area, growth ratings that were established that were associated with our water and sewer boundaries, and looking at our commercial corridors.
Understanding some of the feedback that was done from the Metro Study and looking at our demographics we were a little shy of 17,000 people. She added that just so everyone knows, when we started we were at 8,400 in 2004 for the first plan. So, it is pretty amazing growth for this community. People just don’t see that. A lot of places just don’t see that, so it is a real opportunity to shape where we want to go.
That is part of what we were looking at as far as what the town needs. There were definitely needs for housing. There were needs for determining where we want our commercial developments to go, and that’s where the Town Center idea…it started early in the first 2005 Comprehensive Plan. It was a question of it moving around, and there were a lot of conversations about where would be the best location for it. There were discussions about Joliet Street being through the heart and center of the original development of the Town.
So, that was part of what they looked at. In terms of-could it happen there; could we get it away from the heavy traffic of U.S. 41. As well as, since that period of time we have seen a lot of traffic accidents and things along those lines. So, understanding how to improve U.S. 41, and they worked with Mr. Denny Cobb of First Group Engineering. He set the intersections and where the opportunities were for signalization in the future.
But, they just looked at how that might affect our land use and our roads associated with that. Ms. Carlyle said that those were some of the big elements at the time, but that there is a lot of material in there. The plan is really based on quality of life; and improving the quality of life. There is a lot of recreation, a lot of connections, bike trails, and it was an opportunity for taking as much input and putting it in one place, so that we may have a book basically guiding the Plan Commission for the next ten (10) years.
There is nothing mandatory in it. It is really about putting together a list of goals and aspirations, so that when the opportunity comes we can then use it to help evaluate some individuals who have concerns aabout properties. It is really so we can have a bigger picture in mind when we are thinking about what the town is going to be like in ten (10) years. Ms. Carlyle said that actually, most of the time, a comp plan is done within ten (10) years.
If we are on track with what it is that we want, and we are connected to our demographic and what the trajectory is for growth; we would not see beyond ten years. Ms. Carlyle said that that is a quick synopsis.
Mr. Georgiou said there is another piece he would like to append to that. He said that when the EDC concluded their recommendation, it was for the October 2015 version; and the Town was on a parallel track, he is unsure of the details if it was the Plan Commission or Town Council ; but the Thoroughfare Study was not initially a part of the Comprehensive Plan, but since the town was on a parallel track with the Thoroughfare Study it was decided at the conclusion, at least when they concluded this, that it would make sense to append the Thoroughfare Study, because again it was a plan for where the town was going and its street and plans, and where it was going to add that to it.
Therefore, the Thoroughfare Plan was then appended to it, to which he believes was the February 2016 version. Again, guidelines for as the Town grows, what should be looked at as far as streets and thoroughfare approach.
Mr. Forbes said he would like to touch on some of the points that Ms. Carlyle made a little more. He believes there are some of the bigger concerns that have been passed along. The Comprehensive Master Plan is a required document. We are required to have that by the State; but it is not a hard-fast “by the book document”. There was a conversation at the last Plan Commission meeting; some of the people that were remonstrating said that if we put this document out there “you have to follow it”. The attorney was there that night, and he said that we do not have to follow it but we can when we want to. Mr. Forbes said that to him, it goes to the thought that it is a “pie-in-the-sky” ten thousand foot view of the Town.
If we want to focus on something, we can, but we don’t have to. We can use it to protect ourselves if we need to. Mr. Forbes said that is the way he has always looked at the Comprehensive Plan. He added that as Ms. Carlyle said, there are things that do get done, but not everything gets done. Again, going back to the survey, we have based this direction on what the residents of the Town have said.
Mr. Georgiou said that most of those areas were reinforced by the respondents and the majority of input and direction that people had indicated. In particular, obviously the one area that generated commentary was the Town Center, it was like 78%. The Town Center in the 2005 Comprehensive Plan was from Wall Street to 93rd Avenue. And as the Town is growing and it is going more to the South, it was always around the Civic Center. That is what always considered “downtown”, because relative to that (Civic Center). As the town grew and the respondents and having looked at the growth pattern, it is moving just a little bit more South but it is still concentrated around the Civic Center.
Mr. Georgiou explained that again, as things are moving farther South; and as Ms. Carlyle indicated our growth from 8,400 to 17,000 people; the train station was another thing that morphed from the 2005 Comprehensive Plan. As residential development moved South and also the current development, one of the developers came forward; and said this will be in agreement with the EDC and the Town of where the train station will be. It used to be off of Wall Street by Aspen Café, and now it is down by U.S. 231. Mr. Georgiou said to Mr. Forbes that like he said they had envisioned that in five (5) years from now, or for the next census or when this plan is updated again; that it will continue to evolve.
Mr. Georgiou said this is where the EDC believes they are at in the plan, and it is not legally binding in terms of just because we say something should be “here” that it dictates that it is in fact going to happen.
Mr. Keith said that he would like to make a comment about the train station part of it. He said that long story short, he had a conversation with Congressman Pete Visclosky; and some other people about the train, and this whole thought seemed like it was starting to get serious about locating it around the bus barn for Kolling Elementary School, kind of around that area. Then, Mr. Keith heard that they wanted to dead head the train there, or in other words put a service center there. Mr. Keith said that which to him means storing all the cars, and having locomotives running through the night. That reminds him of an industrial area. So, Mr. Keith got into another discussion with Congressman Visclosky and asked that if we were able to identify some other land, would they be open to hearing that. They told him, absolutely. So, Mr. Keith put together another meeting with the Congressmen and a few other people. Some of the committee and commission members were there.
They identified this new land, and it just so happens that it is south side of town along the railroad tracks. The owners of the land were not at first open to the idea of the train station maybe being down there, but now have kind of come around. So, that is how that got put into place. Some of the comments were that it is so congested up there by Wall Street how could we put a train station right up there with the overpass, and Schilling Lumber, and the elementary school. It didn’t seem like that would be a very good place, because it was so crowded, so it moved down South. That may very well be what happens with this whole Town Center, just to alleviate some people’s concerns. For right here and now, for the sake of putting together a plan, we put together this Comprehensive Plan idea with a Town Center; like you would put together a concept car.
The reason they put together concept cars is so that everyone can go to the car show and say what they like and don’t like about it, so the engineers have a chance to realign it, so that when they do come out with a production vehicle it is what the consumer wants. So, we are getting a lot of really good feedback from residents; “they want it” – “they don’t want it”. Mr. Keith said that like Ms. Carlyle said everyone can agree that what everybody wants…Mr. Keith included, that yeah it would be nice to go back to the 1960’s and the 1950’s; and you could play ball in the street. But, that is not reality anymore, so what do we want now. What we want is nice amenities. We want walking paths; we want bike trails. We want a more pedestrian friendly community with sit down restaurants. Why do we have to go to Highland or Schererville to go have a cup of coffee or sit out on a patio? Why do we have to go to Crown Point to do that? Why can’t we do it in our own town? Why can’t we keep the money here and get people spending and attract people from other places to come to St. John and spend some money? So, from and EDC point of view that is kind of how it came around.
Mr. Keith explained some of his background; how he got it, is that he was looking for a community like that. He enjoyed some success in his company, and he thought he is getting out of here. He was born and raised in St. John, and he thought, “I am blowing this popsicle stand”. Therefore, he went to California and spent five years looking for a home in California. Mr. Keith walked into Carlsbad Town Hall. A big shot with the town said to him “hey, you look like you’re lost. Can I help you?”. Mr. Keith told him he was looking for someone to give him an idea of what Carlsbad is all about. The guy took his lunch hour, and he was on the City Council, and took him to meet the Parks Department guy and took him here and there. Then he gave Mr. Keith a two-inch thick Comprehensive Plan. He said they have a moratorium on building permits, because they don’t want to overcrowd their schools. He told Mr. Keith that they have just told developers they are out. The guy told Mr. Keith they don’t know if it will come around in the next generation or not, but they are not developing their city any more, until they can do it comprehensively in cooperation with the school board. It gave Mr. Keith a vision of what we might have here.
So, those were some of his ideas coming back. Mr. Keith said he met with Janet Emerick, former Superintendent of Schools; he stated he has known all the superintendents through the years, and is very good friends with Larry Verracco now; but everybody commented that they feel like there was a big lack of communication with the school. The town is just out there writing building permits, and not communicating that properly to the school. Mr. Keith said that he thinks Lake Central can handle a little bit more growth, so that is a good thing.
Mr. Keith said he is trying to just give all those ideas and some background about what he brings to the table. Which is that, he is trying to look at what St. John is going to look like for his children and grandchildren; and what they want it to look like, because it is our turn to make those decisions. That is some of his background and thoughts he used in putting together his ideas for the Comprehensive Plan.
Mr. Birlson said that he would like to make a comment. He said that he commends all those on the EDC for putting together this Comprehensive Plan; and all the effort that was put into it, in organizing it, and coming up with all of these ideas. But, when he first looked at the Comprehensive Plan almost about a year ago, he was absolutely shocked to see his house gone in an orange square where a business would be, and most of his neighbors’ homes with these orange squares. Mr. Birlson said that we may be saying that it is a “pie-in-the-sky” or that it is “a plan that might work-might”, but it got a lot of people upset, including himself, to see that.
Mr. Birlson asked that we put ourselves in his shoes; or some of the people in the public audience. If we saw that for the first time we would think wow my house is gone. We don’t matter. You would be shocked too. It is appalling to even see that on a piece of paper; to have that, and now it won’t go away. Mr. Birlson said he wants a Town Center too, just like the rest of us. He wants a place to go. He does not want to have to drive to Cedar Lake or somewhere else to go to a restaurant, or to Munster. He wants to eat here. It would be very nice, but to take people’s homes. Mr. Birlson said maybe he shouldn’t say that, but if someone sells their house and a business buys it; right next to someone who is trying to raise a family, that is just not going to work. Having that kind of traffic coming next door to your house. Outsiders coming into your neighborhood. It is not acceptable. There are other places to put the Town Center, and Mr. Birlson does not understand why the residents of Joliet Street, Thielen Street, and Hack Street, have to be attacked like this. He stated that they are being attacked.
Mr. Georgiou: The original Town Center…you’re basically…we identified the same area…well I didn’t, let me clarify. The original Town Center was North of 93rd Avenue, which is multiple residential locations, etcetera; as a conceptive area where a majority of people in the Town of St. John would like to see a Town Center developed.
And our concepts or areas of relative, or where we compared to was: downtown Crown Point; downtown Valparaiso; downtown Plainfield, Illinois, where residential is mixed in with the Town Center.
Mr. Georgiou said that he thinks that is a key point that needs to be understood. We actually modified, at least what was in the concept plan, of incorporating residences into what would eventually be the Town Center area of the Town.
Mr. Birlson said yes, but we never asked any of those folks. A survey never came out and asked if they would like to have a business next to their house.
Mr. Georgiou said that half of Joliet Street is zoned commercial right now. Mr. Birlson said that he understands that.
Mr. Georgiou said that the other piece he wants to emphasize is that he looks at it as, and he thinks he is logical, but this Town is going to have 40,000 people in twenty (20) years from now. Where is that growth going to be? Where is it going to be funneled to? What is going to happen? Mr. Georgiou said that he works on Joliet Street. He sees the tons of traffic that goes up and down Joliet Street, the accidents right outside of his window etc. And, he doesn’t know that the Town Center may improve that. They are just talking conceptually, as the town grows, to evolve something around the Civic Center, because the majority of the people in the town support that. He said he doesn’t know how else to say that.
Mr. Birlson said that a majority of the people, and he has talked to a lot of people, have said absolutely not when it comes to taking someone’s house. Mr. Georgiou said that we are not taking anyone’s home. Mr. Birlson said but when you show orange squares on a plan that is a start, and twelve (12) out of eighteen (18) homes on Joliet Street, Thielen Street, and Hack Street; are showed to be gone, and that is mind boggling that someone would present that.
Mr. Keith said that he cannot let Mr. Birlson make everyone think that he is the only one who knows what it is like to have an “X” on their house. If you go down to the county records, Mr. Keith said his house, and he thinks all the members kind of know where his house is; he is across from the VFW, the big blue farmhouse. That is his family homestead; and he said as we probably know, now that it is his, he bought it from his parents 28 years ago. On his watch, he has dumped a ton of money into it. He has made it kind of a showplace for the Town. He has restored it back to its original glory, and Mr. Keith said he thinks he has done a nice job. Mr. Keith said he did all of that under a big “X” on his house since the 1970’s, because they want to expand 93rd Avenue from Interstate 65 to Interstate 394 (Illinois). They have talked about it for generations. Talked about making 93rd Avenue; a four- lane, with a center median in it, and yet he did all of that. He didn’t want to.
Mr. Keith stated he even asked Mr. Kil before he started dumping a bunch of money into his property. He asked Mr. Kil, do you know of any plans? Is this back on the books? There was also a big “X” on the Zack’s house next door to his. Mr. Keith said that he knows how Mr. Birlson is feeling and he knows what he is saying, but it never happened.
Mr. Birlson asked then why have this Comprehensive Plan showing a Town Center if it is not going to happen. Mr. Keith said because it is the original Town Center. Mr. Birlson said if it is not going to happen, or if it’s going to take 50 years… if all this property along U.S. 41 gets gobbled up, now we don’t have a Town Center, because we were waiting for Joliet Street, Hack Street, and Thielen Street. Mr. Birlson suggested that we put it in a spot where it can happen.
Mr. Keith said when he was a kid the store was The Royal Blue, which is Mama D’s Pizza. That was the store. They helicoptered groceries there in 1967 from the snow storm. The post office was right across the street, and now it is an aerospace thing. So, hasn’t it always been residential mixed in with commercial. Mr. Keith asked what about Thiel’s Cabinet Shop? What about right across the tracks over there, all those light industrial buildings? Mr. Keith said he is just saying that they were tasked with putting together a quaint idea and see; and they are finding out people don’t want it. If people don’t want it, well they don’t want it. Let’s come up with some other ideas. Mr. Keith shared that somebody came up here before and said, “Well let’s put the Town Center where the K-Mart is”. Mr. Keith asked if that is a good idea.
(General comments from the audience)
Mr. Birlson said the Boyer Development is coming in; that whole area could be worked; and made into the Town Center, but coming into people’s homes. Mr. Keith told the members he is only trying to diffuse what Mr. Birlson is saying, because he himself has had an “X” on his house, and it was a financial decision for him.
(General comments from the audience)
Mr. Forbes announced to the audience to please not interrupt.
Mr. Birlson said that he is not trying beat up the EDC about it. He certainly doesn’t want to, but, it feels like everybody on those streets are being attacked.
Mr. Keith said that was not their intention. It was just a concept, and it was not their intention. He explained that they did not sit there and draw those “X’s”. It was a plan that came. They didn’t sit there and decide that. It was just a concept of what it could look like in the future.
Mr. Keith said that if they did anything wrong it was that they were not sensitive enough to go around to those residents and say “hey here is an idea we are putting together”. So, he will take the blame for that. Mr. Keith said not personally, but as a group.
(Disruption from audience)
Mr. Forbes: Excuse me, Mr. Parada, do not interrupt (bang of gavel). Mr. Parada, do not interrupt again.
Mr. Forbes asked if anyone would like to add anything else to that part of the topic.
Mr. Georgiou said that his frustration is that, and again it is not legally binding and that doesn’t seem to matter relative to the resistance, but he is thoroughly confused, because the statistic is in there. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of the respondents of the Town of St. John; which is an interpretation which they take as a majority of the people of St. John; are supportive of the direction of where we went with this Comprehensive Plan. There is always going to be a minority. Mr. Georgiou said he is not downplaying what the concerns are, but again it is a plan. He said he is confused that if a majority of the town wants; and says this is where we want to go when we grow. I guess that he doesn’t understand that we are going to say; and he reiterated again that he is not downplaying concerns of people who live there; because again he works there; but to say well you don’t count.
At some point we vote; the majority takes direction. The majority does this, or the majority does that. Mr. Georgiou said that we have to take it into consideration that if the majority of the residents of St. John are supportive of the Comprehensive Plan; he doesn’t understand why it doesn’t go forward.
Mr. Birlson answered that if that 78% had a statement; that said do you want a Town Center, but it means demolishing homes. Eighteen (18) homes.,.,
Mr. Forbes told Mr. Birlson that he has got to stop going back to that. Mr. Forbes stated that we are “not, I have said this from the very beginning, time and time again, the Town of St. John is not taking anybody’s house”. Mr. Birlson said then okay the developers are.
Mr. Forbes stated that “What was said in the Public Hearing was that “if someone on Joliet Street were to sell their house, the Town may be interested in purchasing it. “IF” and “MAYBE”. “That is IF this plan is ever decided to go forward. It is a concept right now, okay?. I am sorry this drawing came out, because if the drawing looked just like Joliet Street; with everything that we discussed; you guys wouldn’t be here right now. The only reason they are here is because this part of the Comprehensive Master Plan was turned into a political football. You folks were used and abused; by a bunch of wannabe elected officials”.
Mr. Birlson told Mr. Forbes that he is going off track. Mr. Forbes said that he is not, “this is what is going on, this is the reality of it; you just don’t want to hear the story”. That is what is going on. Mr. Birlson said he is going off track, and that Mr. Forbes doesn’t know. Mr. Forbes said that he does know; he knows exactly.
Mr. Keith said that there is a lot of truth to what Mr. Forbes is saying. He said he knows that not from Mr. Forbes; but because he has seen it himself behind the scenes. Mr. Keith said that all anyone has to do is go to Mama D’s and see who shows up to whip everyone into a frenzy; and then you find out what happened.
Mr. Birlson asked the members if they would be worked up and in a frenzy. How about you Jon, or you Steve?
Mr. Kozel said that what he thinks has come out of this; the main thing is that we do not have to follow this plan. We do not have to follow the plan. It is a concept as they say, and there are people in town who have a big concern about having a center. Now where it is going to be located, again it is a concept about where would we want to put it, and once it becomes established that we do and are going to build one, then that will come before this Board, and we can turn around and make that decision.
Mr. Keith said that what he wants to interject is what he said a little earlier, why don’t we locate it down South by the train station. Mr. Keith said to that to roll the clocks back to when he was a little kid and he hated the subdivision that went in just to the east of them in the 1970’s, we hated it. All the neighborhood kids hated it, because that was where they built their forts and rode their bicycles; and brought their shovels out. They would finish their homework and then go out and build jumps on the dirt hills until midnight every night. Where the K-Mart is, there is a story in the Hammond Times about Mr. Keith and his friends. They built a BMX track where the K-Mart is to ride their bicycles. Mr. Keith said that it is very convenient for people that are now in town, that raw land got developed so that they could be here in town, to turn around and say that they don’t want anything else and they want it to move south. Mr. Keith said that he does not buy that argument.
Mr. Birlson said that playing as a kid; and living in your own house, are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Mr. Keith said that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about development. Mr. Keith said that development is going to happen. We just have to do it orderly. Mr. Birlson said development where existing homes are.
Mr. Keith asked Mr. Birlson why he keeps adding fuel to the fire when he knows the facts. Mr. Birlson responded that he does know the facts; and they are 12 out of 18 homes.
Mr. Kozel: “Is it set in stone?”, Mr Georgiou: “No”. Mr. Kozel: “No. It is not set in stone”.
Mr. Birlson: “then change the drawing. Chris is that your name?”. Ms. Carlyle: “Christine, yes”. Mr. Birlson: “Christine, change the drawing then to a different location. All of that will go away”.
Mr. Georgiou: “But, a majority of the people did not want that. They wanted a Town Center built around the Civic Center, at least for a concept for the future of where that Town Center should be”.
Mr. Forbes said to Mr. Georgiou that conceptually it is logical to use Joliet Street, and Mr. Forbes has said it himself before, because it is a mix of Residential and Commercial area. Mr. Forbes said that everybody has got this picture that there is going to be a Best Buy next to their house, or that there is going to be an AMC 16. His understating of this is that is going to be a quiet, walkable,-sit-down kind of area like the Dairy Queen.
Mr. Georgiou said that the words he would describe, because of when they evaluated other similar areas, what they termed as the goal for the Town Center was “Live, Work, Shop”. He will emphasize the word live, because people who can walk to shop, walk to their work, walk in a small Town Center / “Downtown Environment” of the similar areas that we looked at. The residential part potentially could and should be part of that Town Center. That is the concept “Live, Work, Shop”. That is the whole concept.
Mr. Keith added that it is a quaint little area. Mr. Georgiou said that the intent was never “okay we are going to clear this area out and plop in a big commercial strip center”. That was never the intention, and definitely not the definition of a Town Center. Mr. Georgiou suggested that Ms. Carlyle comment relative to what they had talked about as a Town Center.
Ms. Carlyle explained that they looked at a variety of different types communities and what they had for their Downtown / Town Center. There were a number of examples that had what were conversions of houses. You can live in one, and the next one could be the knitting shop, or it could be a restaurant or a café. We looked at a variety of different ways that could work. She said that she does fully understand their point of view, and she thinks that there are many ways we can adapt this image that is causing so much turmoil.
Mr. Birlson said yes, because it is very busy, and he is not saying that this image is the end result. Ms. Carlyle said she thinks what we have on the eastern edge was an incorporation of houses and businesses; while allowing for commercial zoning over time as people opted to do something with it. It would be a place where you could have that environment.
Ms. Carlyle said that we could just bring it closer to U.S. 41, and we would pretty much be within our same zoning. She does not see that it should be such a point of contention, because they are going to be individual choices by people; in their individual homes. It may be something that is looked at over a period of time. It allows us to make the connections as far as sidewalks, streetscapes, and other things today to give that look and feel of having a downtown; although, maybe not having it be all the way down to where they have the original round-about. It goes about half way to there, and then you still have some parking that is internal that allows people to get off of U.S. 41.Then we still have a Town Center that is just a little smaller than this picture.
Ms. Carlyle agreed that she thinks that is doable. She does not see why we have to fight over it. It is going to go through many evolutions and people are going to work through it over many years. Ms. Carlyle noted that there are many other sections of the plan that are really good for looking forward in terms of making other decisions about our park spaces, U.S. 41, intersections, and how we want to deal with all of these other things. Those are big. Comprehensively these are all the decisions that start to make a community.
Mr. Birlson said that he can see what would potentially happen. There would be house “A”, “B”, and “C”. Then “B” sells. Mr. Developer buys it; comes to the Plan Commission and says, “Hey, I want to put this in, and now “A” and “C”, on either side of house “B” in the middle are stuck, because they have a business there. It used to be a house there before, but now it is a business.
Mr. Keith said that the reality is that house “B” probably is not big enough to build any kind of a business. It would have to wait for the cooperation of house “A” and “C” in order to even make it work, so it is never going to happen.
Mr. Birlson asked then again why have a Town Center if it is never going to happen. Mr. Keith said then let’s just live in a dream land and not have anything on paper. He said that the EDC was charged with coming up with a plan that would satisfy what the residents are looking for: more sit down eating, more connection to Civic Park. If you played baseball you play at Civic Park. That is what people were looking for.
Mr. Keith further said the EDC put their collective minds together. They are not dummies. They own businesses, they put their civil engineering and other minds together and they come up with this as a concept; and then some political people got everybody fired up that we are taking their house.
Mr. Keith explained that then Mr. Parada’s house, which just happened to be something totally separate; not part of this, but part of a different development. Everyone used that as a “See, Its true”. “It’s really happening, because we’re going to take his house”. Mr. Keith said to Mr. Birlson that is why he got all worried, and is whipping everybody into a frenzy. He asked Mr. Birlson to please stop adding fuel to this fire. If this is a good idea, then lets vet it out. Mr. Birlson said that is what we are doing. Mr. Keith said to Mr. Birlson that is what we are doing, but he keeps saying things to everyone that are half- truths. We are not taking anybody’s house.
Mr. Birlson said okay, but the Town Center shows a round-about where Mr. Parada’s house is, so that must be part of the plan... just a pie-in-the-sky.
Mr. Forbes said that the “Round-About is not part of the Town Center”. Mr. Birlson referred to the drawing and said that it shows it right there. Mr. Keith said that it is on the plan, but it is not a part of the Town Center. It is a totally separate issue. Mr. Birlson referred to the drawing again and said that the whole area is the Town Center.
Mr. Georgiou said that he needs to emphasize what Ms. Carlyle just said. He said unfortunately he considers this entire discussion on what he sees as, and he is not trivializing, but 2- 5%. This is an important document. Mr. Georgiou said that 98% of this is extremely valuable; actually he thinks 100% of this document is extremely valuable to the Town as it looks to plan for its growth in the future. We are discussing a component of this document that Mr. Georgiou believes represents only 2% of what is in this document. Relative to how the Town should look at this from a Thoroughfare Study, from a Residential / Commercial Development, from a very logical path, the majority of the town members of St. John support this document. He said he does not know how else to state it.
(Audience member asked if she may ask a question).
Mr. Forbes said that she may not, because this is a Study Session. This is an opportunity to listen.
Mr. Kozel commented that since we have such little time. And that most of it has been spent on the 2% instead of the 98%; what part of the 98% would the members like to address?
Mr. Georgiou answered that if we took the Thoroughfare Study, which the EDC was not intimate with that particular problem, he believes that the Town acknowledges that as the Town grows, he added the EDC knew this 10-15 years ago; relative, there are no through streets in St. John. They have known that for 20 years. It is a major headache. They have seen it in Plan Commission meetings as new developments crop up that there are no interconnections North, South, East, or West. That is the Thoroughfare part of it. The EDC spent the majority of their time on the Comprehensive Plan.
Mr. Georgiou thinks the Town has done a very logical growth pattern, particularly in infrastructure, because otherwise we are not going to grow. Mr. Georgiou said that they have identified that the town will go all the way to 113th Avenue. He asked if that is correct; he is not familiar with what the street it is south of the infrastructure planned. Mr. Kil corrected that the furthest south it can possibly go is 125th, but more likely 117th. Mr. Georgiou said that the plan addresses that, and that isn’t even part of the St, John currently, but the plan addresses it on an infrastructure basis. It goes back to the statement that in 2040 this town will be 40,000 people. This plan outlines that we have a Route 41 corridor. We are going to have, which actually didn’t even exist 15 years ago, the Route 231 Commercial Corridor; which is now in the Comprehensive Plan. It also addresses where the major residential opportunities are, which were identified in various locations. The train station, which was discussed as the other major component moved with this evolution and the growth southward, is also identified and clarified in the Comprehensive Plan, relative to that. Therefore, all those areas are again looked at by the EDC as an orderly, “ look to the future”. This is what has happened. This is where we believe the guidelines should be of where the growth is going to happen in Town, and what the Town Council and Plan Commission should then look forward. If they have a guideline plan, which is in the Comp Plan, that says well this one says it is going to be residential, so were not going to put commercial there.
Mr. Georgiou stated that If you look at the current zoning map of St. John there are areas that Mr. Georgiou said he scratches his head on, because he noticed that the southwest corner of 93rd Avenue and U.S. 41 is zoned Residential, which is St. John the Evangelist’s old church. There are gaps, which is totally out of the purvey of the Economic Development Committee, but the Town Council has to adapt in the future. So when the Comprehensive Plan is put in place and somebody says well wait this is zoned residential but it is U.S. 41 so the Comp Plan says commercial, we can know well that is what it should be. That is where it would be used as a guideline relative to going forward. Mr. Georgiou said that he can’t better emphasize the word guideline or plan concept, but it definitely outlines the projected growth of the town in an orderly fashion.
Mr. Forbes asked that the members switch gears, because the other major sticking point is the discussion on the traffic lights. In the Thoroughfare Master Plan, it calls for six (6) potential traffic lights on Route. 41. Mr. Forbes said that here again we are talking maybe(s). Mr. Forbes explained what he said he has mentioned in other meetings.
There are six (6) potential spots for traffic lights. Depending on growth and development; depends on where one of these traffic lights may go. Moreover, there will be more traffic lights on Route 41. There is no doubt. Mr. Forbes said that he would expect at least two (2).
The thing is that if you put six (6) pins in the map, and say this one is real now. Well, that would affect the one on either side of it. We can say all day long that we want a traffic light here, here, and here. INDOT will say you are not getting one here, you’re not getting one here, and you’re not getting one here. It is just the way it goes. INDOT has ultimate control, but at the end of the day responsible and thoughtful growth requires that we anticipate that there may be a need for traffic lights on Route 41. We need to improve the safety on 41. We will put traffic lights where we have to. We do not want to stop the traffic on Route 41. We want it to keep moving on at a safe and responsible pace. We also don’t want to gridlock ourselves. Mr. Forbes noted that is why he has been pushing for frontage roads since he came on to Plan Commission. He has been working for frontage roads for 19 years. He is very close to getting it, and he is not giving up on the idea.
Mr. Forbes said that everybody compares St. John, our new growth, to that we are going to end up like Highland or Schererville. Mr. Forbes said that we are not going to end up like Highland. We are not going to end up like Schererville up there on Main and 41, because we are going to have frontage roads. We are going to get the traffic off Route 41. Mr. Forbes said that we have been looking at this for a very, very, long time. He said that while this is a new document, this Plan has been going on for at least twenty (20) years to orderly grow the Town of St. John safely; and to not impact ourselves in a negative manner. So again, the argument about the traffic lights is unnecessary.
Mr. Georgiou commented that he actually read that earlier today. Specifically on the Route 41 signalization and what it specifically says is that when you consider commercial growth on Route 41; you should consider that these may be signalized locations. That is the language actually says. He said he agrees with Mr. Forbes that INDOT is not going to let us put in six traffic lights. They have absolute traffic limits and requirements. But as, Boyer Development; or K-Mart comes in, or something else comes in the Thoroughfare Study says that you are probably going to signalize, and you should focus your commercial access around these potential locations. That is all it says. It does not say put in six (6) traffic lights.
Mr. Birlson noted that he wanted to commend; whomever, with the Boyer Development, the frontage road from the Boyer Development all the way down to the McDonald’s. He said “Amen to that”. All the frontage roads down by Strack’s where you can go from store to store without jumping out on the highway. Mr. Birlson said whoever pushed for that, he tips his hat off to them.
Mr. Keith said that is supposed to continue all the way down. He said hopefully you’ll be able to go down to Route 231 on frontage roads, weaving all the way up. He asked if that is the plan. Mr. Forbes said that he hopes. If there is a way he would certainly push for it.
Mr. Forbes asked if there are any other topics anyone would like to bring up. He noted that there is about five more minutes left.
Mr. Keith stated that he would just like to plant a seed. He has heard just in discussion a few times about a possible Impact Fee on developers for road improvement and things. Mr. Forbes responded that they are working on that right now. Mr. Keith said that he would also like to plant a seed about how he has had a hard time sleeping at night with the train traffic that has increased ten-fold over the last several years. He said that everybody that knows him well knows that he barks about it all of the time. Mr. Keith suggested that there are such things as quiet crossings. He knows they are quite involved, but if we could take a look at that as a possible thing that, we can dedicate some time to looking into trying to set aside some funds, so that we can get some quiet crossings.
Mr. Kil said we are attempting our first one right now. Mr. Keith said that the businessman in him says well the trains are running ten times the amount, they are making ten times the money, so they should pay for it. He would be going after the railroad, but he knows they are so federally connected. There would be a hard time getting that done.
Mr. Forbes said that when we initially started talking about the Boyer Development, we started talking about Joliet Street being a quiet crossing. Mr. Keith said that would be a great place for a quiet crossing. Mr. Forbes said that they are working on 77th right now, and Bingo Lake Road. He said they have talked about this numerous times, and he is all in favor of it. It is just a very difficult process. Mr. Keith said that he is aware that it is.
Mr. Georgiou concluded that he hopes they brought some background to the Plan Commission, because the EDC has been working on this thing for probably a year and a half. Moreover, the background that got them to where they went with it, and hopefully it sheds some light.
Mr. Forbes said that the Plan Commission appreciates that. Members thanked one another.
Mr. Forbes stated that he would now adjourn the Study Session of the Economic Development Committee and the Plan Commission.
(The meeting adjourned at 6:56 p.m.)
Beth R Hernandez